From his humble beginnings growing up in Kansas as a son of a locomotive engineer, to an industry giant and icon, Walter P. Chrysler embodied the spirit of innovation and imagination. His love of all things mechanical forged his decision to forgo college and take the path as a machinist’s apprentice in the railroad industry, and to pursue his destiny.
Walter P. Chrysler came into the automobile manufacturing business during its infancy in 1912. He joined General Motors as the manager of its Buick manufacturing plant and eventually became president of the division within four short years. However, the ever-restless Chrysler departed GM in 1919 to help the struggling Willys-Overland and Maxwell Motor Corporation get back on their feet. With his business and engineering acumen learned from his railway management days, Chrysler reached out to three ex-Studebaker engineers to begin the development of a revolutionary new car that would be defined as “affordable luxury known for innovation and top-flight engineering.”
The fruit of Chrysler’s vision and labor made its debut in 1924 with the introduction of the “Chrysler Six.” This all new passenger car featured two very significant innovations for a moderately priced automobile. The first was the lightweight and powerful high-compression six-cylinder that would give the new Chrysler Six a top speed of 70 mph, which was breathtaking if you were the driver of any vehicle in the 1920s. Second, it came standard with four-wheel hydraulic brakes. During test drives, Chrysler’s marketing folks would take riders up to 70 mph on wet roads and then slam the brakes while letting go of the steering wheel at the same time to show the cars stability. The Chrysler Six had other engineering attributes that included replaceable oil and air filters, full-pressure lubrication to enhance engine life, and tubular front axles and shock absorbers to handle the rough and crude roads around the nation during this time period. The Chrysler Six also had indirect interior lighting to aid drivers at night. The Chrysler Six sold for $1,565 and was well-received by the motoring public.
By 1925, Walter P. Chrysler was able to secure a $5,000,000 loan to start production of the new model, and by the first year, over 32,000 Chrysler Six vehicles were sold. The Maxwell Motor Corporation had a new name: Chrysler Corporation. With more than 3,800 dealers and over 100,000 cars sold, Chrysler quickly became major player in the U.S. auto industry.
In our next chapter, we’ll look at the acquisitions of Dodge and Plymouth and how Chrysler became a powerhouse that earned the label of Detroit’s “engineering company,” along with the numerous automotive of “firsts” to come out its Highland Park, Michigan engineering lab.